Erica Leak

The Austin City Council voted to postpone the implementation of a new regulating plan for development in the East Riverside Corridor at its regular
meeting Thursday.

Citing the late hour and council members’ multiple concerns with the East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan, Mayor Lee Leffingwell suggested at 11:35 p.m. the council postpone taking action on the plan until the Dec. 6 meeting.

Among the council’s concerns is a provision in the plan that prohibits the construction of new businesses that use drive-thrus.

Leffingwell said the provision would discourage economic development along the East Riverside Corridor. He said businesses such as pharmacies, fast food restaurants and dry cleaning services would not seek to reside along the East Riverside Corridor and would take their business elsewhere.

“It’s an economic development killer to put this [plan] in the corridor,” Leffingwell said.

Erica Leak, a planner in the Austin Planning and Development Review Department, said businesses would not be able to construct buildings with drive-thrus because it would encourage automobile usage, which the regulating plan seeks to discourage.

“Having new drive-thrus takes away from a pedestrian environment,” Leak said.

Leak said the regulating plan requires developers to construct buildings closer to sidewalks, which she said would encourage pedestrians to frequent businesses occupying those buildings. She said because drive-thrus tend to occupy a large amount of space on a property, pedestrians would be discouraged from frequenting businesses with drive-thrus.

Leak said the plan ensures existing establishments with drive-thrus would be able to keep their drive-thrus or remodel their buildings to eliminate the drive-thru.
Leffingwell also raised concerns that the plan would limit the number of lanes on East Riverside Drive.

“There’s no way I’m going to support that initiative to reduce the number of lanes on Riverside Drive,” Leffingwell said.

Leak said a study conducted by the city’s transportation department found Riverside Drive would be reduced to two lanes running in each direction if the proposed urban rail project is constructed in the corridor. She said the reduction in lanes planned for the corridor’s anticipated prioritization of urban rail usage over automobile usage is not related to the regulating plan.

The second phase of the urban rail project proposed by the city would extend into the East Riverside Corridor, providing a route from downtown to South Pleasant Valley Road along East Riverside Drive.

Printed on Friday, November 9, 2012 as: Council delays decision to regulate East Riverside 

Commuters wait for the bus at a Capital Metro bus stop early Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council will decide whether to implement a new regulating plan for development that could change the face of the East Riverside Corridor.

At its meeting this week, the Austin Planning Commission unanimously recommended the East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan. The plan would provide construction guidelines necessary to execute the city’s East Riverside Corridor Master Plan, a plan passed by City Council in 2010 designed to provide more affordable housing options for low- and middle-income citizens, accommodate pedestrian, bike, transit and automobile traffic and introduce urban rail, among other goals.

Erica Leak, a planner in the Austin Planning and Development Review Department, said not passing the regulating plan would mean the city would not be able to move forward with the master plan.

“We need to pass this plan in order to meet the vision set forth by the city,” Leak said in an interview.

Leak said one way the regulating plan facilitates these goals is by designating four areas along East Riverside Drive as transportation hubs. She said the city would construct transit stops within these hubs and encourage developers to construct apartment complexes and commercial real estate around those stops.

The second phase of an urban rail project proposed by the city would extend into the East Riverside Corridor, providing a route from downtown to South Pleasant Valley Road along East Riverside Drive.

Leak said the regulating plan also requires developers to construct buildings closer to sidewalks, which she said would encourage pedestrians to frequent businesses occupying those buildings.

She said if the city implements the regulating plan, it will only affect development that takes place after it is passed. She said if the council approves its implementation at its regular meeting Nov. 8, the plan could take effect before December.

In addition to the recommendation to implement the plan, the commission recommended that staff from the Planning and Development Review Department review options that would provide minimum standards for developers’ land usage, such as requiring developers to construct buildings with no less than two stories and to construct buildings with minimum space requirements based on the size of the lot.

Delwin Goss, Montopolis Community Alliance president, said he supports the plan as long as it does not concentrate low-income housing in the corridor and diminish property values.

“Low-income housing should be spread out all over the city,” he said.

Jan Long, East Riverside/Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Plan Contact team member and corridor resident, said her residence will not be impacted by the master plan but the area surrounding it will be.

“Once the plan is adopted and if development occurs, I will be impacted every time I drive, walk or bike on Riverside,” Long said.